Bruce Pearl

Auburn men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl high-fives a Beauregard Elementary student in March 2019, greeting them on the way into school shortly after last year's deadly tornadoes hit the area. Pearl has been as conscious about the tragic coronavirus pandemic as he was about that tragedy, taking cues to isolate and be socially distant while still keeping communication through technology. (O-A News file)

Bruce Pearl wants to get more practice in on his grill. He has a Big Green Egg he’s trying to master, and now is just as good a time as any as he and the rest of Auburn adjusts to social distancing.

Gus Malzahn chuckled when he was asked if he’s driven his wife crazy yet by being home so much more. He has answered the call to isolate himself as much as he can, too, and it’s made for a major adjustment.

It’s a major adjustment across the board. Auburn athletics director Allen Greene has heard it said this way: “We’re flying the airplane while we’re building it.”

And that goes for everyone, from Pearl and his men’s basketball program to Malzahn and his football program — and across Auburn’s shut-down campus now pivoting to online learning for the rest of the semester.

But in that, there’s at least one certainly as Auburn sports plummets into the unprecedented and the unknown: Everyone is in this together.

Pearl and Malzahn have been calling their respective players daily and staying in constant contact as athletes head home to alleviate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve both said this week on teleconference calls with the media. Their big focus early has been about getting their athletes all set for those online classes, and educating them on recommended social distancing practices.

Sports is simply on the backburner, Greene seemed to say on his own teleconference — but that doesn’t mean anybody’s running from problems. He thanked the university president and the SEC commissioner, saying there’s been unity from the leadership on down.

There will probably have to be.

“I feel like although we don’t quite know where these twists and turns are taking us, we have very competent leaders helping guide us all through this unique circumstance,” Greene said through the phone this past week. “The crisis, broadly speaking, is the epitome of teamwork. In our athletics department we talk a lot about caring about someone else’s success more than your own. This is that.

“This is ‘we over me’ in the greater context. Success in battling this crisis can only be achieved through all of us pulling on the same rope at the same time with the same sense of urgency.”

Greene is certain in that, when a lot of things suddenly aren’t so certain. Earlier this month, everyone around seemed certain that the Auburn men’s team would be playing in the NCAA Tournament right now. That’s not the case.

The financial hit to be taken now by Auburn and other schools across the country is another set of those uncertainties. There will be an impact, Greene said. And he joked that he didn’t even want to think about the possibility of there being no football season this fall — but of course, that’s a possibility he’s facing whether anyone likes it or not.

“I do think we have to have some conversations about what the world would look like if there wasn’t a football season even though we’re planning on playing one,” Greene said. “I would say if there wasn’t a football season, that would be a sizable financial impact. To what degree? Uncertain. But there would definitely be a sizable impact on our financials if we would not have a football season.”

In the meantime, it’s about well-being and isolation. Malzahn said the football team got together at the athletics complex one last time early last week to get everyone set up and ready to work remotely — and now they’re doing just that.

Pearl joked that he’s learned about TV shows. No, not certain shows — the concept in general. “I thought you, like, put the TV on and there were sports, news, maybe a movie. I guess they’ve had these series, like 20 episodes of things, and they’ve been going on for a few years?” he cracked.

“I’ve been working for a few years now, so I’m just getting caught up to speed.”

Ever the showman, Pearl was still Pearl even calling from home. And Malzahn was still Malzahn, as all-business as ever — but his focus, too, was squared on the players and their health. Neither coach said they’ve sent workout instruction or any X’s and O’s study to players just yet.

And all told Auburn is still Auburn even spread out in isolation. Those teams are still teams, working together even when they can’t be together.

Again: They’ll probably need to be.

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